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Beyond Jodorowsky’s Dune: 10 greatest movies never made

About the author

Christian Blauvelt is deputy editor of BBC Culture.

  • Napoleon by Stanley Kubrick

    Ask a group of cinephiles which unrealised film they wish had been finished and their most likely choice will be Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon. The auteur researched the French emperor for years and intended the biopic to be his immediate follow-up to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick pursued Jules and Jim star Oskar Werner for Napoleon and Audrey Hepburn for his wife Josephine, but MGM cancelled the project when costs became prohibitive. In 2013 Steven Spielberg told French TV network Canal+ that he hoped to revive Kubrick’s Napoleon project for a television miniseries, and the latest rumour is that Spielberg would like to commission Baz Luhrmann to direct. (Alamy)

  • Kaleidoscope by Alfred Hitchcock

    After he saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s provocative Blow-Up in 1966, Alfred Hitchcock said he felt his own films were behind the times. He planned a radical, boundary-pushing film that would feature explicit nudity, violence and homoeroticism. It would centre around three murder sequences: one to take place by a waterfall, another on a warship and a final one in a factory. Though Hitchcock promised to make it for under $1m, studio MCA/Universal passed on the project, forcing Hitchcock to shelve an hour’s worth of test footage. Hitchcock’s 1972 film Frenzy, with its grim depictions of violence against women, would later recycle some of Kaleidoscope’s ideas. (Corbis)

  • Leningrad: The 900 Days by Sergio Leone

    After he had finished Once Upon a Time in America in 1984, Sergio Leone wanted to make a war epic. He had devoured historian Harrison Salisbury’s book The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, about the Eastern Front during World War II. Leone settled on the idea of following an American war photographer, to be played by Robert De Niro, as he found himself trapped in Leningrad for years during the German siege of the city. Leone secured $100m in financing and the cooperation of the Soviet government and had hired regular collaborator Ennio Morricone to compose the score when he suddenly died of a heart attack in 1989 at the age of 60. (Corbis)

  • In Search of Lost Time by Luchino Visconti

    Italian director Luchino Visconti was no stranger to vast film projects and prestigious literary adaptations – his 1963 movie version of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard was nearly three-and-a-half hours long. But for his take on Proust’s seven-volume novel, which he had spent years researching in Paris and Normandy in the 1960s, he wished the film to stretch to four hours. The budget required was so massive that no financing could be secured; a follow-up stab at adapting In Search of Lost Time in the ‘70s by US director Joseph Losey, who hired Harold Pinter to write the screenplay, also fell apart. (Corbis)

  • The Moviegoer by Terence Malick

    After his pastoral epic Days of Heaven earned him critical acclaim in 1978, Terence Malick withdrew from public life, moved to Paris and flirted with several projects throughout the 1980s. Walker Percy’s existential novel The Moviegoer, about a man alienated from his family and job who finds more meaning in movies and books than in everyday reality, was among them. Though the movie never materalised, the book’s quiet, unfussy view of a man’s internal life seems to have set the stage for 2011’s The Tree of Life and 2013’s To the Wonder. (Magnolia Pictures)

  • Heart of Darkness by Orson Welles

    The War of the Worlds wunderkind had made a splash in theatre and on the radio, so in 1940 RKO Pictures offered him what many film historians consider to be the best deal ever for a first-time director. He was to be allowed to direct two films with guaranteed ‘final cut’, the assurance that the studio would not interfere with his vision as long as he stayed on budget. For his first film, he chose to adapt Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Welles would play the narrator, Marlow – but the audience would never see him, except for a couple moments in shadow and in mirrors. Instead the film would use a ‘subjective camera’, in which the viewer saw things from the point-of-view of Marlow himself. But the project proved too costly and Welles decided to make Citizen Kane instead – not a bad fallback. (Rex)

  • Don Quixote by Orson Welles

    Heart of Darkness would not be the last time an Orson Welles film would fall apart. The artist’s career was littered with unrealised projects – a movie version of the life of Christ was to have been the immediate follow-up to Citizen Kane, with Welles playing Jesus. One film he tried to make several times, starting in the mid-1950s, was Don Quixote, which he intended to bring forward to the present day. Even with the help of famous friends – Frank Sinatra personally invested $25,000 in the project – Welles never secured the financing to finish the movie, though the footage he did shoot has been posthumously edited and exhibited intermittently at festivals to give a glimpse of his vision. (Corbis)

  • The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by Terry Gilliam

    Adapting Cervantes to the screen has proven just as fraught for director Terry Gilliam. His film, which began pre-production in 1998, was to star Johnny Depp as a present-day marketing executive who travels back through time to Don Quixote’s era. Quixote, played by French actor Jean Rochefort, immediately thinks Depp’s character is Sancho Panza and insists they go on adventures together. When cameras started rolling in 2000, the poor health of Rochefort and difficulties obtaining insurance doomed the production almost immediately. Filming stopped but the footage that had been shot became part of the documentary Lost in La Mancha, about the unravelling of the project. An attempt by Gilliam in 2010 to revive the film with Robert Duvall as Quixote and Ewan McGregor as the time-traveller also fell apart, though Gilliam has said he hopes he may start shooting a new version of the concept in late 2014. (Rex)

  • Ronnie Rocket by David Lynch

    Impressed immensely by Lynch’s Eraserhead of 1977, Mel Brooks and his producer Stuart Cornfeld approached the auteur to make a film for them. Lynch’s first idea was to direct Ronnie Rocket from an original script he himself had written. The plot concerns a detective who travels to another dimension and meets a three-foot-tall teenager who needs to be plugged in to an electricity source at all times following a surgical mishap. Eventually the teenager becomes a rock star named Ronnie Rocket. Needless to say, this was not a commercial project – even Lynch acknowledged as much. He agreed to direct a script written by someone else instead, and so he heeded Brooks’ suggestion to adapt The Elephant Man as his next film. But Ronnie Rocket’s themes of personal transformation and multiple interlinked worlds would pop up again in Twin Peaks, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. (Rex)

  • An American Tragedy by Sergei Eisenstein

    Joseph Stalin and the Soviet government labelled Sergei Eisenstein a “formalist” – then a damning charge – in the late 1920s, so the director began a tour of western Europe and the United States that ultimately brought him to Hollywood. Paramount Pictures head Jesse L Lasky admired his films and in April 1930 offered Eisenstein $100,000 to a make a movie, suggesting he direct an adaptation of Theodor Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy. Six months later, Eisenstein had produced a script, but Lasky found it so depressing that he terminated the contract and paid for Eisenstein’s passage back to Moscow. (Wikimedia)

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